Why you should find out about corporate culture at your interview (and how)

Would you be able to work for a company that bans cellphones at workstations? (Stocksnap.io)

When you go for job interviews, keep your eyes open for what the company is telling you about their culture.

Traditionally, job interviews are for companies to assess a potential employee. Job seekers like you have an entire list of things to remember to say and do to create a great first impression. However, it is equally, if not more important to also ensure that the company is a good fit for you.

Tim Barry, co-founder of the online community #JobAdviceSA, says that it is important to choose the right company because "whilst the type of job, salary and company benefits are all important factors for job satisfaction, if you do not fit with the company culture it is unlikely that you will look forward to going to work in the morning, which will have the knock-on effects of hampering your performance and ability to work effectively with your colleagues."

That's why you should be interviewing your interviewers at the same time. Get them to wow you with tales of a company that values all employees and you'll know whether or not they'll value you too. Tim Barry stresses that you should use your interview, as well as the research that you did on the company prior to the interview, to assess whether you would be happy working there.

Unless you’re prepared to risk spending most of your day at a place that treats you poorly, we suggest that at your next job interview you steal the following clues with your eyes :

Clues in the foyer:

Don't leave their offices without getting a good look around. A few glances can tell you a lot of important information. Take note of what you see and hear.

Is it silent? Is it formal? Is it cold?

If yes, this is a tell-tale sign of what every day at the office will be like. Are you more productive in an informal and warmer environment? Then this place may not be for you.

Keep an ear open for laughter, buzz in the chill room, and if you can, eavesdrop on a nearby conversation... what is being said is indicative of the relationship between colleagues, their priorities and if you’re lucky, their work ethic.

Are you greeted with smiles?

While you’re waiting, take note of the people that walk pass. Remember that everyone you see is a potential co-worker. If you are more comfortable in an environment where people are more welcoming, warm and open, then you need to consider whether or not you’ll be happy in a place that doesn’t share your sentiments.

What’s on their walls?

This is particularly important if you prefer an environment that is involved in social activities: look for signups to various clubs like soccer or social responsibility groups. Are there many notices and rules pasted on the walls? If they make you feel uncomfortable or restricted in any way, it's best to trust your instincts and look for better opportunities elsewhere.

Clues from the interviewer:

Carefully study the mannerisms, attitude and non-verbal clues emanating from the hiring manager, HR person, your potential manager, or anyone else present during the interview.

Is the interview conversational or formal?

Pay close attention to the way the interviewer speaks to you. If they are friendly, have a good sense of humour, you can assume that the culture within the company is similar. If you prefer colleagues that are less friendly, more formal and business-like, then perhaps you aren't a good fit after all.

Is the interview process well organised?

Entering a corporate environment that is organised is probably the most important aspect to look out for. Even if you prefer a more relaxed environment, with flexible hours, where creativity is welcomed and they have great open door policy, the company should still operate smoothly.

If the interviewer is flustered, asks irrelevant questions, and seems unprepared in any way, your warning tingles should go off. The company should already have a good idea of who and what they want in new recruits, what the position entails as well as the skill set needed to excel in the position.

Which adjectives are used?

Pay close attention to how everything within the company is described. Each explanation will have a positive, negative or neutral tone. Identifying the differences will be an indication as to how the person really feels about their company.

In addition to reciting the typical questions to ask in an interview, make sure you ask your interviewer these 5 questions too:

How often are company meetings held?

The answer will tell you how the higher ups communicate with their minions. You will be able to tell how much company information is shared with employees regarding the state of the company.

Please describe the leadership or managerial style at your company and how are mistakes handled?

The answer will tell you how you will be treated, how important your contribution is to the company, and if the environment caters for or stifles creativity. You will have to decide beforehand if you want to be treated like a robot or not.

Which three words would you use to describe the company and the department I’ll be working in?

This is a great way to get a few more adjectives out of your interviewers. Do also look closely at the body language of the person as they answer this question. If they’re scrambling to find words, looking around nervously, or your sixth sense is telling you they’re deceptive in any way, make a mental note.

Compare your ideals to the words they use to describe what could potentially be your new environment, and decide whether you could be productive in such an environment.

If you were going to give public tours of this company, what stops would the guide make?

This is a great way you can fish about the great areas you otherwise wouldn't know about. Perhaps they have a foosball table, a company barista or a treadmill like 24.com. If too many distractions are too tempting for you, then you'll need to choose an environment that forces you to  be more disciplined.

What are your favourite and least favourite aspects about working here?

You’ll be able to see if the interviewer is genuinely excited about certain aspects of the company and if what’s considered awesome for them, lines up with your standards and morals also. Questions like these can humanise your interviewer as s/he is forced to talk about the company in a personal way - not as a representative of the company.

While corporate culture is very important, you have to remember no place is perfect. You’ll have to weigh up the pros and cons and choose something that suits your lifestyle and work ethic. Sometimes it’s easier to make a list of the things you refuse to sacrifice, rather than creating an impossible-to-find wish list. And, according to Tim Barry, you are less likely to be considered for promotion if you do not fit with the corporate culture or get on with your co-workers. Because the truth is, you’ll never thrive in an environment that you don’t fit in.

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